Biden prepares for inauguration on Trump's last full day in office

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Mike Hayes and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 0638 GMT (1438 HKT) January 20, 2021
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6:16 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Blinken says Biden intends to extend US-Russia arms treaty

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Nicky Robertson

 Alex Edelman/Pool/Getty Images
 Alex Edelman/Pool/Getty Images

Antony Blinken said Tuesday that President-elect Joe Biden intends to seek an extension of the New START Treaty, but suggested he has not made a decision on the length of that extension. A full extension is five years. 

The landmark US-Russia arms treaty expires just 16 days after the inauguration.

The secretary of state-designate noted that Biden “couldn’t really engage” on the issue during the transition because he was “very cognizant of the fact we have one president at a time.”

Blinken told lawmakers that he believes “this is something that we will be coming to you on pretty much immediately as soon as the president is sworn-in, and I know that he does intend to seek an extension, and he’ll have to make a decision as President about what duration he would seek.”

The Trump administration went back and forth with the Russians on the terms of the longstanding treaty after efforts to create a new trilateral treaty with Russia and China failed.

6:11 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

McConnell and Schumer still at odds over power-sharing agreement

From CNN's Manu Raju

Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are still trying to hash out an agreement on their power-agreement, which will detail how committees are structured and provide general guidance of how the 50-50 Senate will operate.

There are still several sticking points, according to multiple sources.

One sticking point: ensuring that the filibuster remains intact, which McConnell is demanding.

Schumer doesn't have the votes to gut the filibuster, since several centrist Democrats have rejected calls to use the nuclear option to reduce the threshold from 60 votes to 51.

But as part of these talks, McConnell is asking Schumer to reassure the GOP that they won't seek to do away with the potent stall tactic in the Democratic majority.

Schumer, in a statement from his spokesperson, indicated that he wants the power-sharing agreement to mirror the 2001 deal that was struck to govern how the 50-50 Senate operated. Schumer's spokesperson asserted that the Democratic leader wants to keep "extraneous changes" out of the power-sharing agreement.

6:10 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

The State Department has to be non-partisan, Blinken says

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Nicholas Neville

Pool
Pool

Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken said the State Department “has to be” a non-partisan institution, breaking sharply from his predecessor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who has repeatedly engaged in political activity while serving as America’s chief diplomat.

"I could not agree more strongly that with regard to the State Department it has to be, and if I have anything to say about it, it will be, a non-partisan institution that is seeking only to advance the national interest," said Blinken to Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine who pointed out Pompeo's political activity on the job.

Blinken noted that he started his career in Washington at the State Department and he was never able to tell if the State Department officials he worked with were Democrats, Republicans or independents.

“They are simply professionals who are working to advance the national interest,” Blinken said of the State Department staff. “If the person who purports to lead them is not doing the same thing I think we’ve got a problem.”

Kaine said that Pompeo has turned the secretary of state into a “partisan political position,” by doing things such as speaking at the Republican National Convention which violated policy he had laid down for the rest of the department. He read Blinken the words of former Secretary of State Colin Powell who said he would not engage in political debates in his role as secretary. Blinken agreed.

“I strongly agree with Secretary Powell. And that is the model I would follow,” Blinken said.

Kaine said he will be “extremely disappointed” if he sees Blinken partake in campaign events for any Democrats including the president or the vice president.

“I would welcome you holding me to that,” Blinken said.

6:03 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden administration intends to join global vaccine effort, secretary of state nominee says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Nicky Robertson

Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken said that the Biden administration intends to join the global vaccine effort spurned by the Trump administration.

That effort, known as COVAX, is led by the World Health Organization. President Trump cut ties with WHO, but President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin it.

“We believe strongly that we can do that ensure that every American gets the vaccine, but also help make sure that others around the world who want it have access to it,” Blinken said during his Senate confirmation hearing.

5:46 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

400 lights illuminate the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in tribute to Covid-19 victims

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

There are 400 lights illuminating the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in tribute to the more than 400,000 people who have died from Covid-19 in the US.

Hundreds of towns, cities and communities across the country plan to join in the solemn tribute with lighting ceremonies of their own at buildings from the Empire State Building in New York to the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.

6:15 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden grieves Covid-19 victims: "To heal, we must remember"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Pool
Pool

President-elect Joe Biden paid tribute to the thousands of lives lost to the Covid-19 pandemic at a memorial held by the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial at the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Biden began his remarks by thanking a Michigan nurse, Lori Marie Key, who sang "Amazing Grace" at the memorial.

"If there are any angels in heaven, they're all nurses. We know from our family experience what you do, the courage and the pain you absorb for others. So, thank you. Thank you," Biden said.

"To heal, we must remember. It's hard sometimes to remember, but that's how we heal. It's important to do that as nation. That's why we're here today. Between sundown and dusk let us shine the lights in the darkness along the sacred pool of reflection and remember all those who we lost," Biden said before introducing Yolanda Adams, who performed "Hallelujah."

The National Mall along with other places of significance around the country lit up in honor of Covid-19 victims.

Watch the moment:

5:55 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Michigan Covid-19 nurse performs "Amazing Grace"

Pool
Pool

Lori Marie Key shared her experience working as a Covid-19 nurse before performing "Amazing Grace" at tonight's memorial service.

"It was heartbreaking for the families who couldn't be there with them and it was heartbreaking for those caring for them. But when I'm at work, I sing. It gives me strength during difficult times, and I believe it helps heal," she said.

Key went on to perform "Amazing Grace."

Watch the moment:

5:47 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Harris: "Tonight we grieve and begin healing together"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

Pool
Pool

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris reflected on the grief of many who have lost loved ones to coronavirus during the pandemic in her remarks at a memorial tonight.

“For many months we grieved by ourselves. Tonight we grieve and begin healing together,” she said.

"Though we may be physically separated, we, the American people, are united in spirit. And my abiding hope, my abiding prayer, is that we emerge from this ordeal with a new wisdom to cherish simple moments, to imagine new possibilities, and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another," Harris said.

Watch Harris speak:

5:52 p.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Archbishop of Washington: We are "united in the sorrow" of those lost to Covid-19

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, began the national Covid-19 memorial service by grieving more than 400,000 Americans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic so far. 

"We turn to the Lord of all to receive these, our sisters and brothers into eternal peace and to comfort all those who grieve the loss of a loved one," he said. "This virus, more than taking the lives of too many of our citizens, as well as people around the globe, has left in its wake a sobering awareness that we are all united in the sorrow that we recognize today."

Gregory also noted the cruel nature of the virus which has deprived so many Americans of the chance to fully grieve their loved ones 

"We pray for the countless families and relatives who had to surrender their loved ones without the comfort and the consolation of a familiar funeral ritual according to their religious traditions or selections," he said. "That privation only added to the sadness engendered by the death of a friend, a relative, or a colleague."